Now that she has time, Tessa Johnson can sit down and watch a recording of South Carolina's 87-75 victory over Iowa in the NCAA women's basketball championship game, scroll through her text messages and put the pieces together.

She received a deluge of congratulatory messages following the game, heaping praise for the freshman from St. Michael-Albertville who scored 19 points to pace the Gamecocks. But what was hilarious to her were the messages that filled her mailbox during the game.

"When I looked back at my phone, I saw messages from while I was playing," she said Thursday. "They said, 'We're so excited, you're doing so well.' Or, 'The team is doing so well.' Or they would say something about the game. So I thought that was pretty funny."

So when did these messages start trickling in? When her three-pointer in the second quarter tied the game after a fast start by the Hawkeyes? Or was it the impressive catch-and-shoot three-pointer at the end of a long pass from MiLaysia Fulwiley as South Carolina took a big lead in the third quarter? Perhaps after some of her other team-high 19 points? She provided plenty of opportunities for in-game texting.

"There are a bunch," she said. "I heard a lot of stuff about the support back home. My parents were getting texts from people they haven't heard from for a long time. Just all of it was really cool. Not necessarily surprising, but surprising."

There was a surprise when she learned that LeBron James went on social media during the game and posted "Tessa Johnson cooking!!" on X.

"That one too," she said with a grin.

After spending a couple of days with her family following the title game, Johnson is back at the Columbia, S.C., school and embracing the afterglow of her achievement. In Thursday's Zoom call, she wore a white pullover while sitting in a meeting room on campus and talked about how far she has come.

“Coming in as a freshman, I didn't know what to expect. But I knew that it was going to be a challenge, mentally and physically. ”
Tessa Johnson

It was a year and a half ago when she committed to South Carolina, which some viewed as too big of a leap for her. But that quick release on her jumper, combined with confidence and attention to details, allowed her to thrive on college basketball's biggest stage while helping the Gamecocks complete a 38-0 season.

She took on the challenge of competing at one of the nation's top programs. She wanted to win, and she got what she wanted in her first season. And that means more is coming. While local fans have followed every step of former Hopkins star Paige Bueckers' career at UConn, Johnson can be part of the next wave of college basketball stars in the post-Caitlin Clark era.

Keep an eye out for Tessa Time.

"Coming in as a freshman, I didn't know what to expect," she said, "but I knew that it was going to be a challenge, mentally and physically, because they are college players and I am away from my family and everything. But just being able to have the teammates I have and the coaching staff that I have and the support system — even my fans that are here in South Carolina — they are so supportive, and there is a genuine feeling that will help me gain confidence. That is what helps me grow on the court."

Her room is full of swag from the Final Four, but the Gamecocks were the only team to bring home a golden basketball with the Final Four logo and championship towels with their school logo. There is a parade scheduled on Sunday in Columbia. St. Michael-Albertville is planning a celebration whenever Johnson can get back to Minnesota.

As much as she's reveling in winning the championship, she has been gobsmacked by the reaction back home.

"Just all the support for me," she said. "Not only here but everyone at home. I found out that they had watch parties for me at the St. Michael Cinema. I had so much support, and I feel very blessed, and I'm appreciative of that."